Jazz enthusiasts are expected to fill up Soweto Theatre as it hosts the 2023 Mzantsi Jazz Awards (MJA) on Saturday 26 August.  The awards which will be held for the 7th year are gaining more recognition. Founder Dr Mongezi Makhalima describes the mood ahead of the ceremony as very anticipatory.  “Every year feels like there’s new layers, so we always anticipate how these new layers land to create a new feel for MJA and keep things fresh”, he told Jazz It Out. 

Bokang Ramatlapeng

Makhalima gave a profound reason for choice of venue for the ceremony.  “The home of Jazz is in the townships of South Africa, from Kwa Langa, Mdantsane, Katlehong, Mamelodi, to name a few”, he said.  While they can’t be in all the townships, Soweto Theatre’s Gibson Kente Theatre (previously known as Red Theatre)represents this spirit.  After all, Soweto is home to legends including Gloria Bosman, Sibongile Khumalo and Jonas Gwangwa.  

Composer, arranger, producer, pianist Mduduzi Mtshali, who is musical director for MJA, is busy curating this year’s ceremony.  Music is the core of the awards since they are about jazz as an artform. The audience can look forward to once in a lifetime performance by established musicians and newcomers.  MJA is known for maintaining good relations with its previous winners, and some are coming back to perform this year.  Last year’s ceremony was electrifying and vibrant filled with jazz lovers screaming for with joy.

Robin Fassie

Winners will walk away with prestigious MJA trophies.  “We also have some cash prizes for winners as well as commissioning for a paid live performance in our opening season that continues to pay the winner in perpetuity”, Makhalima said.  There is an international trip for one of the categories as occurred last year when Jazz at Lincoln Centre supported the opportunity for pianist Thembelihle Dunjana to perform a dream performance at Dizzy’s Club in New York.  Being part of MJA Hall of Fame means more opportunities for previous winners to be created way beyond the actual year of winning.

Some of the 2022 winners include Melorie Jane, Roland Moses (see featured image), Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane, Malcolm Xolile Jiyane, Somi, Kgethi Nkotsi and Thetha FM.  The list of 2023 nominees strikes a good balance in terms of age and gender, newcomers and more established musicians.  In 2022, pianist Roland Moses won the Best Jazz Song.  A year later, his former student at TUT, Bokang Ramatlapeng is nominated in the very same category.   We firmly believe that MJA have played a significant contribution in the quality of music recorded by musicians. 

Live in Sagiya Celebrates KZN Jazz Legends by Mthobisi Mthalane

The tightly contested category for Best Jazz Album is made up of two pianists Siyanqoba Mthethwa and Mthobisi Mthalane, saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu and trumpeter Prince Lengoasa.  Lengoasa’s tribute to his late father “Blues for papa” is also nominated for Best Jazz Song category, which includes “Bana ba Nthabiseng” by vocalist Bokang Ramatlapeng, and “Mr Masekela” by guitarist Cameron Ward.  Making a return as a nominee this year is Deelee Dube with “Cherokee”.

Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguica’s album titled “Sounds of Peace” is one of the four albums nominated in Best International Jazz Album/Artist category.  Completing the list are US drummer Makaya McCraven’s recording “In These Times”, London based outfit Kokoroko with their album “Could We Be More” and “Long Gone” by saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade.  Last year’s winner of Best Radio Station Playing Jazz, Thetha FM 100.6 is nominated alongside Kofifi FM and Alex FM.

Nobuhle Ashanti

The list of nominees for Best Newcomer in Jazz is made up of Thapelo Khumisi, Bonginkosi Yeko (Dzivha Fundudzi Band), Siyanqoba Mthethwa, Pretty Olifant, Mercedes Boshego and Nobuhle Ashathi.  For the Best Contemporary Jazz Album, the nominees are Sonik Citizen and Cape Tone for the album titled “Introducing Sonik Citizen & Cape Tone”, “Eternity” by Amine Dhouibi, “Hymn for Africa” by The Jazz Catz and “Intwasa: The Becoming” by Robin Fassie which is also nominated in the Best International Jazz Collaboration Album/Song together with “White Festival Album” by Sandile Masilela.

Masilela’s album also made it to the nominee list for Best Traditional Jazz Album.  Other nominees are Siyanqoba Mthethwa’s “Coming Out”, Mthobisi Mthalane’s “Live at Sagiya Celebrates KZN Jazz Legends”, “Tenziah” by Eldred Schilder, “As promised” by Victor Masondo and “Lockdown Chronicles” by Prince Lengoasa.  The three nominees for Best Female Jazz Artist are Cebile Mthembu, Nobuhle Ashanti and Deelee Dube.  Nominees for Best Male Jazz Artist are Mthobisi Mthalane, Prince Lengoasa, Victor Masondo, Mthunzi Mvubu and Robin Fassie.

Long Gone by Rodman, Mehldau, McBride & Blade

Due to financial constraints, this year’s MJA will not be streamed live.  Those that can make a trip to Johannesburg are encouraged to attend this highly anticipated event.  It will start at 4pm which will create plenty of time after the show for people to use the rest of the event celebrating or travel back home.  Live recordings of the music performance will be made available afterwards.  

Only Best Jazz Album, Best Jazz Song, Best International Jazz Album/Artist and Best Station Playing Jazz are decided by public vote.  The rest of the categories are decided by adjudicators.  For more information on the voting procedure and information related to the awards, please visit their website www.zajazzawards.co.za or drop them an email at info@zajazzawards.co.za Like their Facebook Page – Mzantsi Jazz Awards.  Follow them on X (Twitter) @ZaJazzAwards and Instagram @zajazzawards.